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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Room 8/9, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
Event date: 
Monday, 14 October, 2019 - 17:00 to 19:00

Professor Katarzyna J. Cwiertka
(University of Leiden)

A Historical Transformation of Japan’s Most Famous Box, the Ekiben



For over a hundred years, ekiben (a boxed lunch) has been an essential companion of railway travel in Japan. It not only nourishes the body, but also provides gustatory pleasure and cultural entertainment for people on the move. The boxed meal usually features a recognisable ingredient that represents the area, such as a specific type of seafood or a local vegetable. In addition, the design of the box itself plays a role in creating an immediate connection between the food and the locality. This is achieved through a visual reference to historical and literary heroes, local crafts, flora and fauna, or local topography, including temples, castles, mountains and waterfalls.

The artistic aspect of ekiben has attracted much attention over the years, but much less interest was paid to the technicalities of the packaging itself and the waste it generates. With a few exceptions, ekiben utilises disposable single-use containers made of wood, cardboard, Styrofoam or plastic. This lecture will explore the historical transformation of ekiben packaging and how it fits within the context of Japan's policies towards sustainability and recycling.


Katarzyna J. Cwiertka is chair of modern Japan studies at Leiden University, the Netherlands. She is the author of Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power

and National Identity (Reaktion Books, 2006), Cuisine, Colonialism and Cold War: Food in Twentieth-Century Korea (Reaktion Books, 2012), and Branding Japanese Food: From Meibutsu to Washoku (University of Hawai’i Press, 2020). She has also edited of a number of volumes with a wider geographical focus, including Asian Food: The Global and the Local (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2002), Food and War in Mid-Twentieth-Century East Asia (Ashgate, 2013), andConsuming Life in Post-Bubble Japan: A Trans-Disciplinary Perspective (Amsterdam University Press, 2018, OAPEN). Cwiertka is currently working on a monograph exploring the modern history of food packaging in Japan.